Liz Sheffield

The Impact of Mental Health on Small Businesses

An employee who’s always calling in sick. A manager who just can’t hit productivity targets. Turnover rates that simply won’t stop rising. You may observe issues like these without realizing that they can be indicators of depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions.

These symptoms of poor mental health in the workplace aren’t innocuous. Employees with unresolved depression experience a 35 percent reduction in productivity. Neither are they infrequent: The World Health Organization estimates that more than 300 million people around the world suffer from depression, with many also suffering from symptoms of anxiety.

Small businesses may find themselves particularly at risk of taking a financial hit because of unaddressed mental health issues in the workplace. With fewer resources and employees overall, smaller organizations tend to feel dips in productivity more acutely. This means that small business owners must take a proactive approach to addressing mental health in the workplace before serious problems arise. Here are three steps to take.

1. Educate Employees

Given the number of people facing mental health issues, it’s imperative that business owners help educate employees. Education shouldn’t be confused with making diagnoses or requiring employees to disclose mental illnesses. Instead, focus on teaching employees how to recognize the signs of a problem, use tools to discuss it and access resources for mental health care.

Inform employees about symptoms that may indicate issues around mental health in the workplace, such as:

  • Irritability
  • Lack of energy
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Loss of hope
  • Trouble making decisions

Business owners should also keep in mind that they themselves aren’t exempt from mental health issues in the workplace — the financial stress, feelings of isolation and potentially exhausting time commitment of owning a business can take a toll. Education about mental health is a meaningful way to help you and your employees understand and address mental illness together, in turn supporting your organization by maximizing productivity and minimizing absenteeism and turnover.

2. Manage Workplace Stressors

Just as with any other illness, you can’t require treatment for mental health issues. But as a small business owner working with fewer employees, you have an opportunity to devote more individual attention to possible problems and spot — and alleviate — potential strains in the workplace. Employees may experience stress regarding certain specific job duties, the way they receive feedback in the office and how they interact with colleagues and supervisors.

Staying aware that these are common workplace stressors will give you the context you need to implement policies that address workplace stress. For example, you can emphasize training on providing effective feedback for managers or open a line of communication dedicated to reporting harassment and interpersonal issues. Consider reassessing workloads to ensure that no single employee is overburdened. Enforce vacation time. These relatively small steps can reduce everyday stressors and could help employees feel better about their work life.

3. Offer Mental Health Care Options

In addition to educating employees and being aware of issues, small business health benefits should include opportunities for employees to receive mental health care. Examples of mental health benefits include:

  • Psychotherapy and counseling, including telemedicine options that employees might be more comfortable using
  • Inpatient services to undergo psychological and behavioral health treatment
  • Substance abuse treatment

Also be aware that coverage for mental health and substance use disorder services are included among the Affordable Care Act’s 10 essential benefits, which employers with 50 or more employees are required to provide.

Small business owners can’t entirely prevent issues around mental health in the workplace, but with education, awareness and options to receive mental health benefits, you can nurture a community of employees who work to reduce stressors and maintain strong mental health.

This content is provided solely for informational purposes. It is not intended as and does not constitute legal advice. The information contained herein should not be relied upon or used as a substitute for consultation with legal, accounting, tax and/or other professional advisers.

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